March 18, 2010

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Green Zone (R)
An Army soldier searching for WMDs in Iraq in 2003 wants to know why he isn’t finding anything and searches for answers in defiance of the Bush Administration flunky running the operation in Green Zone, a shaky-cam Bourne-like redo of the early days of the Iraq war.

Chief Warrant Office Roy Miller (Matt Damon) is leading teams of soldiers on the search for weapons of mass destruction. Often under fire and occasionally working around looters and other civilians, they plunge into factories and dig up street corners only to find — nothing, of course. But this is early enough in 2003 that Miller wants to know why. It’s The Reason We’re Here, he demands to military higher-ups, who give him the Shut-Up glare. But Miller doesn’t shut up. He goes to a CIA officer, Martin Brown (Brendan Gleeson), who agrees with his suspicions that the WMD intelligence they’re using is bad, a suspicion shared by Lawrie Dayne (Amy Ryan), a newspaper reporter who is starting to think her stories about the justification for war are wrong.

Clark Poundstone (Greg Kinear) represents the administration and doesn’t care whether there are WMDs or not. The possibility of WMDs is enough to keep the justification of the war intact and anyway he’s looking forward to the “creating democracy” part of the invasion and has a squadron of chipper young Washington types to help him with the task.

When Miller meets a man, whom he nicknames Freddy (Khalid Adalla), who may have actual information about the Iraqi military, Miller goes off mission and follows the leads. Soon, he’s hot on the heels of a general who may know the truth about WMDs. As expected, Clark Poundstone and his Mission-Accomplished message aren’t too happy about that.

There’s lots of running through alley ways, dodging bullets, fighting two enemies at once and other Bourne-trilogy hallmarks, all shot as though the camera men were dodging and jogging right along with the actors. It’s the kind of camera work that can create a You Are There feeling but can also create are You Are Nauseated feeling. And it can obscure the same action it’s trying to heighten. Instead of feeling heart-pounding excitement as Miller searched for the truth, I started to feel a little sleepy, as though the shaky images were rocking me asleep.

When the action can’t keep you riveted in a movie like this, you need the plot to keep up the tension. And by all rights, it should. There’s war, a cover-up, possibly a conspiracy and a disaster in the making. But, the movie doesn’t present this in a fresh way. The movie regularly had me feeling fidgety — these actions are many many screwups in the past and the movie has an almost revisionist sense of what can be done about it. I found myself having a hard time ginning up the feelings of shock and betrayal that this movie clearly expects from us. I didn’t see some surprising revelation, I saw some wishful thinking about a problem that has sunk so much deeper into confusion since 2003. The story has no new angle on the central question of WMDs and no new way of seeing the war.

Rated R for violence and language. Directed by Paul Greengrass and written by Brian Helgeland (from a book by Rajiv Chandrasekaran), Green Zone is an hour and 55 minutes long and is distributed in wide release by Universal Pictures.